South Africa’s senior batsmen gave England a lesson in the old ways of Test batting and the merits they still hold in the modern era to painstakingly set up the second Test for the tourists. After a frenetic second day on which 15 wickets fell in a storm of aggressive batting, the third day was a return to the more traditional methods.
Over the course of 82 overs, South Africa ground England down on a Trent Bridge surface that lost its spice, adding a largely patient 268 runs before setting a target of 474 to win. The experience may have lacked the vicious blows of day two, when they were bowled out for 205, but it was no less chastening for England.
Their prospects of avoiding defeat over the final two days appear bleak. While the pitch flattened out as the sun finally emerged, two deliveries late in the day scuttled through at shin height – one of them trapping Faf du Plessis lbw for 63. Gone was the lateral movement on offer throughout the first two days, but a different type of danger took its place.
No team has chased more here than the 284 that England achieved against New Zealand in 2004. And while New Zealand made 440 in a fourth innings in a losing cause, that was way back in 1973. Sunny weather is forecast for Monday (July 17) but it is unlikely to be enough to save England.
There was good support for the home side in the early exchanges of the day, as the crowd recognised that only an early burst of wickets could bring them back into the match. South Africa resumed on 75 for 1, leading by 206, with a gloomy morning suggesting there might be something for James Anderson and Stuart Broad.
But they missed their chance when a faint edge from Hashim Amla off Broad went undetected, with a confused England neither fully appealing nor asking for a review. In Broad’s next over, a diving Anderson failed to hold an edge from Dean Elgar at gully. South Africa were 94 for 1 at the time, and made the most of England’s generosity with both batsmen finding some fluency.
Amla in particular looked closer to his old self – especially against the spinners. For the second time in the match, he went to fifty by coming down the track to hit a spinner – this time Liam Dawson – back over his head for six. Two other boundaries in the over ensured it was a short spell from the left-arm spinner.
It took an effort ball from Ben Stokes to make the breakthrough, as he sent down a vicious delivery that reared up at Elgar’s throat. Elgar (80) could only fend it to square leg as he looked to protect himself, ending a 135-run stand that had set the match up for South Africa. When Quinton de Kock nicked off from Anderson in the next over, South Africa led by 284 but du Plessis was not inclined to let England’s mood lift with any more swift wickets – regardless of whether that would affect the eventual outcome of the match.
Over the next 20 overs, Amla and du Plessis added just 44 runs – most of them in boundaries when England served up a delivery that could easily be tucked away. The attrition ended with a burst of Amla boundaries that carried him into the eighties, but South Africa’s wait for a first century in the series was to continue. Dawson returned, and after Amla had skipped down the pitch to move to 87, he attempted to repeat the shot and was struck on the pad. Umpire Paul Reiffel shook his head, but England reviewed and the decision was overturned.
As the lead passed 350 shortly before tea, du Plessis began to up the ante, and went to fifty in 99 balls just after the break. The increase in urgency started to reflect on both sides of the score though, with Temba Bavuma hitting Moeen Ali to mid-off as he attempted to clear the fielder, before du Plessis (63) succumbed to the shooter from Stokes. It was little more than Stokes deserved on a day when he returned to something approaching his best bowling, returning figures of 2 for 34 from 20 hardworking overs.
Ali would end with the headline figures of 4 for 78 though after buying the wickets of Chris Morris, Keshav Maharaj and Vernon Philander (42). The latter’s dismissal after a couple of hefty blows over cow corner brought the declaration on 343 for 9 from du Plessis, allowing his bowlers just under 20 minutes at the England openers.
Morkel appeared to have instant success when Alastair Cook was adjudged LBW by Reiffel to the very first ball of the innings, but HawkEye showed that the ball would have bounced over middle stump. There were a couple of other hairy moments for England’s openers, but they lived to fight another day.
Brief scores: South Africa 335 & 343/9 decl (Dean Elgar 80, Hashim Amla 87; Moeen Ali 4-78) lead England 205 (Joe Root 78; Keshav Maharaj 3/21, Chris Morris 3/38) & 1/0 by 473 runs.